I was keenly anticipating this book – to the extent that I pre-ordered it on Amazon and we don’t do that all that often. So did it live up to expectations?
Diviner Alex Verus finally made one too many enemies on the Council of Mages, and now one of them is angry enough to have him executed. Fighting for his life is nothing new, but this kill order also calls for the death of Alex’s dependents—and there’s no way that he’ll let Luna, Anne, and Vari take the heat. With only a week before he’s history, Alex will have to figure out how to disassociate himself from his friends, scrounge up allies on the Council, and hopefully keep his head attached to his body.
No hanging about with this slice of the Alex Verus storyline – we are immediately confronted with the death sentence that has been passed by the Council of Mages. This single act turns Alex’s life upside down and we get a ringside seat in first person viewpoint as he battles to cope with the consequences of this latest problem. I have always thoroughly enjoyed Jacka’s take on Alex’s divination gift. He is not a particularly powerful mage, but with focus born of years of practice, during a fight he can sort through a variety of possible futures and find the few where he survives. Of course, it’s all well and good setting up this dynamic, but it only really works if it is effectively written, which is a lot harder to do than Jacka makes it look. He has to keep up the pace and tension during the action scenes, as well as giving us Alex’s desperate attempts to sift through the various options allowing him to stay alive. Fortunately, he is very successful at managing this trick.
There are times when I read a fantasy world and wish I were there, however I surface from an Alex Verus novel profoundly relieved I am me, living right here. While there are Dark and Light mages, the difference between them is not as wide as you might imagine. The Light mages are not all about sprinkles, unicorns and doing the Right Thing – they are about keeping more or less a status quo where magic-users have a measure of independence and trying to work together. However powerful magic-users have about as much team spirit as a clowder of cats, so they spend a great deal of time negotiating and squabbling with each other. While the Dark mages are all about acquiring power. So the majority of people within the magical community align themselves to one or other in order to survive. Verus, after escaping his abusive apprenticeship with one of the most lethal Dark mages, vows never to join any faction. And in doing so, immediately sets himself against a range of powerful, vested interests.
I love the intricacies of this world and as with any successful long-running fantasy series, there is also a strong supporting cast of characters. My current favourites are Luna, Alex’s chance-cursed apprentice and Anne, a life mage. There is also an impressive range of lethally inventive and powerful enemies ranged against Alex, and this is the book where they all seem to finally gain momentum to thoroughly upset his current existence.
As for the ending… well, I didn’t see THAT coming! Without encroaching into Spoiler territory, suffice to say it is a major gamechanger that will test Alex in ways he has never been tested before. So the Higbee household are now eagerly anticipating the release of the next book. In the meantime, don’t rush out and get hold of Burned if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the previous six books – instead tuck into the first book, Fated. This enjoyable series deserves to be read in order as it goes on delivering.